As home schooling grows rapidly, resourceful parents are forming co-ops to share their knowledge and lend each other moral support.

Judging from numerous reports in print and online, a home-school co-op consists of parents bringing kids together and sharing their strongest academic specialties once a week. Field trips, clubs or other social activities for the kids sometimes follow the classes.

“It is very much a trend,” said Michael Farris, founder of the Virginia-based Home School Legal Defense Association and home school-oriented Patrick Henry College. “An appreciable percentage of high school kids are acquiring a portion of their education in co-op programs.”

Farris, whose family began home schooling in 1983, said, “Our son, who is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in microbiology at Notre Dame, got his first serious science course in a home-school co-op. His teacher was a friend from our church who has a doctorate in physics.”

One way to appreciate the variety of opportunities is to surf the Internet for listings of home-school co-ops around the country. The site Homeschooling in Richmond, for instance, identifies in the Old Dominion’s capital city and in surrounding counties dozens of groups, both faith-based and secular.

Here are just a few examples: Richmond Secular (for folks home-schooling strictly for academics), Richmond Unschoolers (for those favoring child-led learning), Richmond WISH (Waldorf-inspired School at Home), and TEAACH (Training and Educating our African-American Children at Home). Growth in home schooling among minority families, including blacks, has been brisk over the past 10 years. Deeply religious parents continue to be a significant part of the home-schooling movement. From Chesterfield County in the Richmond metro area, Elizabeth Stanley Trail — mother of a third-grader, second-grader, and a preschooler — personifies the dynamism of faith-based co-ops.

A nurse by training, Trail said she and her husband, Brandon, are public school graduates who never envisioned home schooling. But when she began doing Premier Designs jewelry shows, she started meeting lots of home-schooling parents who were very happy with their experiences. “I started having mom after mom come into my life who home-schooled,” Trail said. “God put it in my heart that this is what I should do.”

When Trail found that her son’s birthday was just slightly beyond the government cutoff date and that he would be nearly 7 years old by the time he could start school, Trail decided to take her son’s education into her own hands.

“I thought, ‘Why not home-school?’ And we loved it!” said Trail. “It worked for our family. We loved the flexibility and the chance to have more field trips, for example. And I can control how fast they learn by filtering with Scriptures,” rather than letting them be immersed in “worldly ways” so quickly.

For two years, Trail has served as coordinator of a 70-family home-schooling co-op that meets every Tuesday at her family’s church, Swift Creek Baptist. The kids are able to explore their interests in elective classes, such as art, music and creative writing, and the day concludes with lunch, chapel and play.

This fall comes a leap of faith for the group: the start of a full-day, K–12 co-op, complete with nursery and preschool. On Tuesdays, Swift Creek Connect Academy (SCCA) will offer no fewer than 39 different elective classes, and the plan is for all to be taught by teachers with degrees in their academic specialties.

The purpose will be to support and supplement home schooling, not replace it with a private school. Trail says opportunities will abound for parents to use SCCA to reinforce the core curriculum they use at home and to help provide a stimulating elective, such as a hands-on science class.

Fewer than 2,000 children were home-schooled in 1970, so why do U.S. parents now invest so much energy in home schooling more than 2 million children a year? The woes of public education — the faddish curricula imposed without parental or teacher input, the bullying, the drugs and even the wearisome process that leaves children sleep-deprived — all factor into their decision-making. But the most positive explanation is that parents want to customize their kids’ education — making it something special.

Home schooling is the purest form of school choice, and it is working.

Robert Holland is a senior fellow for education policy with The Heartland Institute. Contact him at holland@heartland.org.

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